Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Jewelry Tools

I never knew there were so many tools for jewelers to use! I took a beginner's course in jewelry making a few weeks ago and decided to try making some things at home, so I needed a few things ...

Anvils, hammers -- lots of hammers, pliers, files (big and little), tweezers, solder, flux, torch for soldering, a pan of pumice stones to hold my soldering pieces, a fireproof little square to do it all on, "third hands" to hold little parts in place, files, "pi
ckle" to clean off soldering residue from the parts, a used crock pot to heat the pickle, a pair of copper tongs to fish items out of the pickle with, jeweler's saw, saw blades, bench clamp to saw on, buffing wheels, buffing compounds, and on and on ...

I made two hammers into tools to pattern copper and silver sheets with. One is a random series of lines, and the other is a starburst pattern. I carved the patterns into the faces of the hammers with a little tiny cut-off wheel, using the flex-shaft machine (which I forgot to mention above), and then polishing the hammer faces. Used to pound patterns into sheet metal, they leave a surface pattern that catches and scatters light. The sheets have to be pounded on an anvil -- the bigger the better -- in order to put a clean pattern on the metal. This p
rocedure makes a lot of noise, so I can't do it after my wife has gone to bed.

Then I had to make some tool-holders so I could find things. I made two out of wood -- just holes drilled into the side of a 1x4, about 3 inches deep into which I could put things like tweezers, pliers, saw blades, and other small things. I wanted to make one out of copper tubing soldered to angle iron, so I bought some angle iron and cut a foot off one end with a hacksaw (although I could have used the jeweler's saw -- it cuts ANYTHING). Then I
cut some 1/2 inch copper tubing into four-inch pieces (getting two blisters in the process, one on my thumb and one on one finger). I spent two days thinking about how to hold all the parts for the soldering process, and finally came up with one I thought would work. Applying flux to all the parts, I began.

First try was an abject failure. By the time I got the metal parts hot enough to melt solder, the flux had been burnt to a solid black film. And, there was no adhesion between the copper and the iron, so it just fell apart. I cleaned everything up and tried agai

Attempt number two was no better. In fact it was somewhat worse. I had taken everything out onto the back patio because I thought it would be better to try this operation outside. That was a good idea, but unfortunately, it was the last one I had. Everything was rearranged outside. In particular, the hoses for the torch were rearranged, and when I pointed the torch at one end of the copper tubes, flame shot out the other end of the tube and melted holes in the hoses to the acetylene and oxygen bottles! I heard this tremendous hissing so
und and thought to myself, "That can't be a good thing". It took me a few moments to figure out where it was coming from. Well, I guess there isn't a more fundamental mistake for a beginner to make than to melt his own hoses. Best to get it out of the way right at the start. Now I can make more sophisticated mistakes.

That put me out of the soldering business until I could get new hoses, so I passed the time by downloading instructions on how to change hoses from the web. I discovered that I didn't actually need NEW hoses, I could just cut off the ones I ha
d. But the instructions cited the use of a "ferrule tool" -- whatever that was. I looked closely at the picture of the new hoses and saw what had to be the "ferrule tool" (because it couldn't possibly be anything else) and thought, "I can make that". I did, too. Out of aluminum. And it worked, at least to get the brass holders off the hoses at their connection to the torch. But when I tried to use it to get the brass holders back onto the new connections, the brass slid into the tool and jammed there. So, after un-jamming it, I made a new ferrule tool with a slightly smaller hole, which was perfect for putting the brass holders back on. Also, for the first time I used my very smallest hammer with the plastic face -- perfect for this job.

Back in soldering business, I gave it another try. This time I managed to get a copper tube soldered to the angle iron at one spot, but not along its length. It felt loose, so I pried it up, thinking I would just pry it off and start over. But instead of breaking at the solder joint, I managed to pry a piece right out of the side of the copper tube! Now I had a tube with a small hole in it.

"Well, no matter", I thought, "it won't matter if it has a small hole in it -- it won't been seen anyway." I cleaned everything off for one more try. I decided that I was using a torch that was too small, and I wasn't able to heat the whole area I wanted to sol
der, so I changed the torch tip to the biggest one I had.

My torch is called "The Little Torch" because it is quite small, and has very small nozzles in the tips. I have five tips, so I picked out the largest of the lot. Ready to go again, I was very careful to position all the parts in place, taking lots of time to get it right. This time things were looking much better. I was heating a much larger area this time, and it looked much better.

But then, about halfway through the process, when one piece of solder had melted and I was working on the second, I discovered that I was soldering the angle iron on upside down.

Obviously, I was out of my league.

Later that same day, however, I managed to make a jig for bending wire into the shape I wanted for making a pendant or earring. I made two of them, and when it came to the soldering part, everything went perfectly.

Maybe I'll try the iron and copper another day. After all, I have lots of short copper tubes around because I made them all (and got blisters!) before even started the soldering trials, and there is still quite a bit of angle iron left over. Or, I might epoxy them together -- I know how to do that.

But I hate to fail. On the other hand, I learned a lot. I especially learned to pay attention to my hoses. And, I learned how to changes hoses. That's something. It will have to do.


Tona said...

I love these long stories about getting things to work (or not)... it's a glimpse into your mind. I think photos are in order, especially of fried hoses and torched metal tubing.

Maren said...

Yes, pictures would help quite a bit!

I can just imagine how frustrated you must have been at each unfortunate discovery. However, you are right: the lessons learned (the hard way) will stick with you and add to your growing knowledge. Soon you'll be an expert and look back and laugh. I can't wait to see the creations.

By the way, I think burned copper is beautiful. I once saw an interior design show where the girl was making a light fixture with a copper base. She used a torch to make the copper all different colors. I wonder if you can do that to jewelry, too. Ever tried it?

Geary said...

I have not tried it, but I think it works better with thinner copper than I am working with. I use an acid bath to reduce all the oxidation to bare copper again, so all the colors go away.

Maren said...

So what's the best way to bring back tarnished silver without using pasty polish? I once heard of a method where you use a plastic container, line the bottom with tin foil, and add a liquid- can't remember what, though. Ethyl alcohol? Any ideas? It was a cool demonstration (instant shine) and I wish I could remember what she used.

Disco Mom said...

Maren - this intrigued me since I have several pairs of silver earrings I've stopped wearing becaues they're so tarnished. They have intricate designs that silver polish would just get stuck in. So I found your tin foil method and a few others:

- Place a sheet of aluminum foil in the bottom of a pan, add 2-3 inches of water, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Add silver pieces, boil 2-3 minutes, making sure the water covers the silver pieces. Remove silver, rinse, dry, and buff with a soft cloth. This method cleans the design and crevices of silver pieces.

- Soak silver in a mixture of 1/2 cup white vinegar and 2 tablespoons baking soda for two to three hours. Rinse them under cold water and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.

- Place 2 tablets of Alka Seltzer in a cup of warm water. Drop in your jewellery (NOT PEARLS OR OPALS) and leave for 5 minutes. Dry with a clean cloth.

One of these came from a cool website that made me go browsing some of their other hints and things, interesting stuff. When I get home I'm going to clean my of these ways.

Maren said...

The method I saw demonstrated was an instant thing. I'll be interested in hearing your results. Also, I can't wait to see the things you've been working on, Dad!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I am laughing hysterically. I just started a metalsmithing class because I was afraid to try to learn it myself. Your adventures describe the types of things that would have happened to me if I had tried this on my own. I laughed so hard I cried.

Good luck to you!